Best/Favorite Thin RPG Core Book

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You mention this one a lot. It's based on Burning Wheel?
No, it predates BW by nearly 15 years! It's a Greg Stafford game, from the late 80s. Thematically, it overlaps a lot with Pendragon (though filtered through the comic strip). In my view it's a better system than Pendragon: I think the mechanical overhead of Pendragon is at odds with the essentially romantic themes of Arthurian fantasy. Whereas Prince Valiant is very light.

It resembles BW in some ways: action resolution is dice pools, and - while the Prince Valiant Book isn't quite as upfront as BW - is basically intent-and-task. The resolution system is uniform across fighting, talking, riding, etc. But the mechanics are simpler than BW - two stats (Brawn and Presence) and a pretty short skill list. My group approaches it as BW-lite.

The rulebook contains a number of scenarios ("episodes" is the jargon used) - the basic structure of a Prince Valiant scenario is that the PCs encounter a situation that will engage them as knights errant (a knight who won't let them cross a bridge unless they joust; someone in distress who needs their aid; etc). My experience from play is that this structure is easily able to be integrated into very player-led thematics and "story"-arc.

I think it's a great system, and I'm surprised it doesn't have the same sort of uptake that Pendragon has.

Random Task

Neon City Overdrive. Clocks in as a 72 page PDF generic Cyberpunk RPG with a Blades in the Dark style dice resolution system coupled with a FATE style aspect tagging system to build dice pools. Has lots of setting and adventure suggestions included.
I believe its system is or is planned to be the basis for a more generic game as well, but I haven't been following along.

I got curious about page counts and word counts so here we go. Randomly what I had on my hard drive without re-downloading a bunch of stuff.

Trail of Cthulhu: 250 page PDF
  • 250 page PDF
  • actual meat pp. 6-227
  • pp. 204 ff. are 'campaign frames' and an example scenario
  • so the actual rules are about 200 pages
  • word count: 125K words for the entire document, 105K for just the rules

Esoterrorists 2nd Ed.
  • 162 page PDF
  • actual meat pp. 6-148
  • pp. 79-148 are a 'campaign frame' and example scenario
  • so the actual rules are pp. 6-78, or about 72 pages
  • word count: 104K words for the entire document, 55K for just the rules

  • 238 page PDF
  • actual meat pp. 6-225
  • pp. 78 ff. are all sub-settings
  • so the rules themselves are only about 70 pages long
  • word count: 92K words for the entire document, 30K for the just the rules
    • the book has a lot of whitespace and many full-page art plates, hence the much lower word count than normal

Shadow of the Demon Lord:
  • 274 page PDF
  • actual meat pp. 3-267
  • pp. 149-174 are setting details
  • so the actual rules are about 240 pages
  • word count: well the file was too big and kept crashing my Word but based on some sampling let's call it 780-800 words per page, so about 214K-219K for the entire document, and about 187K-192K for the actual rules

First of all, I can't see what @Ruin Explorer says because they have me blocked.
Ah, that makes sense. Never mind my jabbing there.

Second of all, I mentioned in a post above this one that I was talking about 50K words. I freelance write for the industry so I have a pretty good idea of what a 100 page RPG consists of.
Apologies for missing that if you posted the 50k thing before my response. But I don't think that was the sequence? Anyway, good call.

And finally, setting isn't relevant to the discussion for every game. you don't need setting information for a fantasy heartbreaker of a modern spy game. I would argue you don't need it for either Blades in the Dark or Scum and Villainy, because those games are built on tropes primarily. yes, they include a lot of setting, but that is just the creators being, as I said, self indulgent (which is okay; it is their game, they can present it however they want).

I'm with you for SaV, mostly because I don't like the setting. But I totally disagree about Blades in the Dark. I'd argue that the reason it's been such a huge success, and why it's getting adapted for TV, and also why some FitD hacks don't work nearly as well, is because of Blades' setting. A lot of FitD games don't realize how much went into making the Blades setting not just super playable as an RPG, but specifically using its mechanics.

-You can't leave town to let the Heat die down, or pick up and move to another location when you gain too many enemies, because Duskwall is cut off from everything else.

-Because everything you do or take as a crew in Duskwall provokes a reaction, the city needs to be very well defined. Check out the hi-res maps they released for the city. The place is mapped own down to every street. It's not some generic place. It's lived in and big-but-claustrophobic.

-It's a supernatural setting, but the "rules" of magic and spirits and such are kept strategically vague.

-It's a setting with guns, but not too many. And a setting with steampunky tech, but not too much.

Now I don't personally love the idea of running that setting. Not sure why. But I can recognize why it works so well, and why it's helped turn the game into a modern classic.

But maybe more to the point, I still think what you're really advocated for in this post is games without settings. I think there's a place for that, but I also think some games are harder than others to grasp without a setting.

Like, for example, Blades in the Dark!

BLACKOUT by Erika Chappel is a lean 80-page PbtA game focused on the women of Civil Defence during the London Blitz. It does what it does pretty well within that particular scope, complete with escalating drama and consequences during firefighting and rescue operations.



Front Range Warlock
The new SLA Industries (2e) is reasonably thin and entirely self-contained (much more so than the first edition). Cryptworld by Goblinoid Games is also a slim, self-contained, game (there are supplements, but they aren't necessary to play). I Bury the Gods is very slim and self-contained.

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